“Oh no! Look, mum – the dog done a poo poo on the carpet!”

“Why that little… I’ll have to clean it up. What the…? This is a plastic doggie poo! Ha ha ha! I feel like a proper Charlie!”

“Yes! Ha ha ha ha! Hey, everyone – mum cleaned up a dog poo thinking it was a real poo, but it was a plastic poo! Ha ha ha!”

“Ha ha ha ha ha! And we don’t even have a dog!”

Except, of course, it didn’t happen like that. For the most part shop-bought practical jokes never worked as you imagined. Or, frankly, were too poorly realised to ever be “practical”. Rubber fake pencils for instance; what were they about? “Here – borrow my pencil.” “Thanks, but… what’s going on? It feels as if the pencil is made of rubber! Someone must have spiked my lemonade with LSD! Oh man, I’m losing my mind!” But it just never happened that way. Give someone a rubber pencil and within milliseconds of you handing it over they’d have identified it as fake. Or, most likely because the novelty item was so poorly made they would have sussed your ruse before you even got a chance to hand it over.

whoopee!!Whoopee cushions; another crap idea. Firstly, they don’t even look like cushions. Maybe you can hide them beneath a real cushion, but your “victim” will suspect something the minute you invite them to sit down on the real cushion that is by now mysteriously raised several inches off the chair. Even if you do succeed in getting them to sit on it, most likely you’ll have under inflated the thing, and it won’t make a sound, or you’ll over inflate it and it’ll burst. So much for a “real Bronx cheer”.

Black face soap. Is the black dye magically concealed within the pigments of the bar of soap? No. It is hidden within a compartment beneath a paper seal. The seal will inevitably come away revealing the ruse, and spoiling your attempts to transform father into Al Jolson. Fake cigarettes which are filled with powder that give the illusion of real cigarette smoke when you blow through them – they actually worked so well we got hit round the head.

Incredibly, they’re still making fake soot – either that or the packet we saw for sale in the newsagents recently has been there unsold since 1957. Fake soot was indistinguishable from real soot, except that it came in tiny packets. The idea behind the joke was to sprinkle the “fake” soot onto the carpet, thereby fooling people into thinking there was real soot on the carpet, and theoretically eliciting screams of horror. Unfortunately, the time we tried the ruse a) We didn’t have a coal fire, and b) Mother hoovered the stuff up within seconds.

Fake bullet holes. Do they look like bullet holes? No, they look like round grey stickers. “What bugger stuck little round grey stickers on the car,” was the most probably reaction, and not the intended “Sweet Jesus somebody wants to kill me”.  X-Ray specs, though not a practical joke as such, were perhaps the biggest con of all. The youthful brain would imagine scenarios where you’d wander the streets in glasses indistinguishable from the real thing, peering through girls’ dresses. Or boys’ pants. Either way, the reality was that the x-ray specs gave the illusion of seeing through something by virtue of a red feather sandwiched between two bits of cardboard, within a cheap plastic frame. Mind you, as much as we complained at time of the lack of visible nipples, the joke was on us when we got cancer of the eyes. Ha ha!

Fart powder that you put in drinks never seemed to work. Blue mouth chewing gum almost did, were it not for the fact that the gum was bright blue, and the brand name was always something obvious like “Bluemouth Gum Company Chewing Gum”.

stink bombsNot every practical joke was rubbish of course. The fake chewing gum that contained a mousetrap-style snapper was astoundingly brilliant, but they were so vicious they might as well have just sold razor blades to kids. Inevitably they’re no longer in production. Likewise itching powder, which was little more than strands of fibre glass, and would typically just cut a young man’s back to ribbons. You can hardly go wrong with stink bombs, though we never quite understood the pupose of “perfume bombs”. Where was the point of them? “Crikey, what’s that smell? Has a new romantic fop entered the vicinity? Golly!”

By all accounts one of the simplest and most effective of all novelties was fake blood. Unlike blood capsules, which merely made it looked like you’d been sucking a red sweet, and were trying to spit it back up, fake blood looked exactly like the real thing. You could pour it on your face, your hands, and coupled to the appropriate wailing would result in an immediate trip to the hospital.

Alas, our love of fake blood backfired a few years ago when, searching for our watch on the bedside table in the middle of the night, our hand stumbled across a small vial. In that half-asleep condition, we couldn’t recall its origin, and for reasons known only to the sleeping subconscious, we opened the vial and sniffed the contents. Unfortunately, in our prone condition the contents spilled out over our mouth, chest and sheets. The light was switched on, and by all accounts the scene resembled the final moments of Nancy Spungen. Fake blood over us, over our teeth, face and neck, fake blood over the pillow and sheets… the few seconds of horrified confusion which followed were among the most terrifying of our life. Worse still, the blood stained in a major way. It took five baths to remove it, and we spent the best part of a week looking as if we had one of those unsightly giant birthmarks stretching from just under our nose, to just above our nipples. 

Even so, the fact remains that the best jokes are the classics; namely, the ones you don’t buy in a shop. The ones which involve you hiding behind curtains and jumping out at people, or creeping up behind someone and grabbing their sides while simultaneously shrieking in their ears, or the ones where you get a stick and wipe it in dog mess and rub it on someone’s back, or whack them on the back of the head with a blackboard wiper, or use a pencil to draw round the edge of a coin, and them bet them that they can’t run it down the length of their face, and then they end up getting pencil on their face, or the one where you spread a rumour around school that they got an erection in the shower after games. No way money can buy you laughs like that, man.  

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1.  Traditionally, what colour are whoopee cushions? 

2. The modern myth of the Loch Ness Monster was started in 1934 with a faked photograph taken by whom?

3. Doctors Woodwood and Keith fooled the world in 1912 with their unveiling of a fake “missing link” ape-man. What was it called?

4. The famous Cottingly Fairy photographs from 1912 were really what?

5.  In 1990 it was was revealed that Milli Vanilli had tricked the world by not really singing on their records. Who were the two members of Milli Vanilli?


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